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Olympics asthmatics breathing easy.

Olympic asthmatics breathing easy

Ginny Gilder developed asthma as a preteen, and didn't have much trouble with it through high school. But at college in 1975, she discovered rowing, and rediscovered her asthma.

After she had made several trips to the emergency room for epinephrine to stop an asthmatic attack, the health clinic doctors told her they would no longer allow her to compete on the varsity team unless she took medication to control her asthma, instead of dealing with it only when it became life-threatening.

She complied, and went on to join a four-member rowing team that took a silver in the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Gilder, now living in Seattle, was far from the only asthmatic on the U.S. Olympic team. "With treatment, [asthmatic] athletes can achieve worldclass performance,' says William Pierson of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Pierson and his colleagues last week presented data on the 597 members of the 1984 U.S. Summer Olympic team in Washington, D.C., at the International Conference on Allergology and Clinical Immunology. After administering preand postexercise lung tests and questionnaires, they identified 67 athletes on the team as asthmatics. Many had been unaware that they had the condition.

The athletes' asthma evidently didn't hurt their performance: Asthmatics comprised 11 percent of the team but were responsible for 13 percent of the medals.

About 80 percent of asthmatics are subject to exercise-induced bronchospasm, which can cause coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, stomachache or headache within 15 minutes of exercise. The condition can be prevented with drugs and careful warm-up, says Roger Katz of the University of California at Los Angeles, another researcher in the study. The asthma drugs approved by the International Olympic Committee do not affect performance, Pierson says.

Says Katz, "For many years we've been deiling with the myth that if you have asthma you sit on your duff and become a spectator.' Asthmatic children who wanted to compete in sports used to be guided to swimming, where the warm moist air and absence of allergens like pollen that can trigger an asthma attack seemed to help. But now, says Pierson, with appropriate management, asthmatic athletes "are limited only by their desire and will to succeed.'

Says Gilder, "I'm a very good example of what their research has found. My asthma was just another factor I had to deal with.'
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Title Annotation:asthmatic athletes
Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 2, 1985
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